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Swiss officials seek to end D’Amato’s critical statements

ZURICH, March 3 (JTA) — A two-sentence statement issued by U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.) regarding Switzerland’s wartime role has elicited sharp condemnations from Swiss government officials. “The world has already rendered its verdict: The Swiss were guilty. We’re now debating the penalty, and the penalty should fit the crime,” the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee said in a statement last week. D’Amato issued the statement Feb. 26, after the Swiss government announced that a memorial fund for needy Holocaust survivors would be jointly administered by the World Jewish Restitution Organization. The fund, created last month with contributions of some $70 million from Switzerland’s three largest banks, was hailed by Jewish leaders as marking a turning point in Swiss-Jewish relations. The statement from D’Amato, who spearheaded a congressional quest to determine the whereabouts of assets deposited by Holocaust victims in Swiss banks during the war years, struck Swiss leaders as ill-timed and counterproductive. Swiss Foreign Minister Flavio Cotti, who last week negotiated how funds would be disbursed from the fund with Israel Singer, secretary general of the World Jewish Congress and chairman of executive committee of the WJRO, said this week that he would seek to have D’Amato stop his verbal attacks on Switzerland and its people. Switzerland’s largest daily newspaper Blick reacted with a story headlined, “D’Amato, That’s Enough. Not All the Swiss are Criminals.” Rolf Bloch, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Switzerland, told reporters that he was “shocked” by the senator’s statement, adding that he would seek to have the WJC use its influence to get D’Amato to moderate his tone in the future. Special Ambassador Thomas Borer, who is coordinating Switzerland’s response to all issues surrounding its wartime financial role, spoke Sunday with Singer in an effort to stop D’Amato’s attacks on Switzerland, according to a spokeswoman in Borer’s office. In New York, Singer denied in an interview that Borer had asked him to try to get D’Amato to soften his statements about the Swiss. Singer, who described D’Amato as “one of the most important players” in recent efforts to get the Swiss to confront their wartime past, said Swiss government officials were wrong to criticize D’Amato, adding that the senator “has an obligation to serve his constituents.” Just the same, Singer said he had briefed D’Amato on his negotiations last week with Swiss officials and was optimistic that D’Amato’s future comments would reflect any further positive news from Switzerland. “He’s aware of what happened last week and took note of it,” said Singer. “I’m sure he’ll be responsive in kind to every positive development that emerges from Switzerland.” (JTA foreign editor Mitchell Danow contributed to this report.)